Even as far back as ancient times, the wise Hippocrates stated that everyone has a physician inside him or her, and that one simply needs to help it in its work. He claimed the greatest natural healing force is the one inside us.
And while he indeed said that food should be our medicine, he also warned that eating while we are sick is the same as feeding our sickness. Not that philosophers have always been right about everything, but in this case, this particular philosopher has hit the bullseye.
Unfortunately, when it comes to the modern age of medicine, fasting has not been given its due credit and attention. The reason? You can’t make any real money off of such a cure.
The problem with doctors not being knowledgeable enough about the subject is that medical schools largely ignore it when it comes to ‘pharmaceutical science’ studies. There’s also the fact that doctors are taught to prescribe drugs instead of learning about proper nutrition.
A nephrologist who completed his studies at the University of Toronto, Dr. Jason Fung, hopes to change all that. Back in 2001, he joined Scarborough General Hospital where he continues to change the lives of individuals.
He is not the only doctor to try and create awareness about the incredible health benefits that one can achieve by fasting. In fact, this is one of the world’s oldest dietary interventions, having been practiced for thousands of years already!
Some doctors suggest that fasting can be harmful to one’s health, but that can only be if it is not done properly. If proper fasting truly had any adverse effects on one’s system, we would have known by now. And in such a case, studies that show the pros of regular fasting would not be emerging.
What the Research Has to Say
The journal Cell published a Horizon in which they show how fasting can trigger one’s pancreas and cause self-regeneration. This is great for both reversing diabetes symptoms and controlling one’s blood glucose levels.
There has never been any evidence that proves that fasting is bad for the average individual. Some rather obvious exceptions would be those who are dealing with medical problems or are currently on prescribed medication.
But the fact remains that the human body was designed in such a way, that it can go for longer periods without food, without having to suffer any consequences. In other words, it’s completely natural.
Fasting and Diabetes
Let’s go back to Dr.Fung for a second. He, like 90% of other doctors and medical specialists, was conventionally oriented at first. As a kidney specialist, he had many patients with type 2 diabetes.
And it eventually dawned on him that something was amiss when it came to the conventional treatment methods for this disease. After all, diabetes patients who took their prescribed medications and followed every guideline still had to deal with numerous complications.
One of these main complications is kidney disease. This can make them either go blind, requite amputations, or require dialysis. In an interview (see the video below) with NCBI, Dr. Fung discusses the many myths and fears concerning fasting.
In it, he explains that, contrary to popular belief, fasting does not burn muscle. He also explains the role of insulin, talks about the myth of ‘Starvation Mode’, how fasting can reverse diabetes, discusses the many variations of fasting, and more.
You can also visit Dr. Fung’s Diabetes, to find out even more about him and his practice, lectures, and results, and read the articles which he publishes each month. An interesting Ancient Egyptian pyramid inscription says that humans live on ¼ of what they eat. On the other ¾ live their doctor.
Fasting and the Brain (Alzheimer’s and Other Neurodegenerative Diseases)
The National Institute on Aging’s current Chief of the Laboratory of Neuroscience, Mark Mattson, is also one of the biggest researchers of the molecular and cellular mechanisms when it comes to many neurodegenerative disorders, such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease.
In his TEDx talk (you can watch the full video below) he discusses some very interesting issues. Does he wonder why the normal daily diet includes three square meals plus a snack? He claims there is no evidence that proves this is the healthiest eating pattern.
And yet, lots of money is involved when it comes to convincing people that they should stick to this pattern. After all, it’s not like the food industry is going to profit from someone skipping breakfast, is it?
If people fast, both the pharmaceutical industry and the food industry end up losing money. As disturbing as this may sound, the last thing these two industries want to see is a world full of healthy people.
How can you make money for a healthy person? One who does intermittent fasting, regular exercise, and generally sticks to a healthy lifestyle? You don’t, and that’s their problem.
The Science Behind it
Mark, along with his team, has published numerous papers on how fasting twice a week can significantly lower one’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease. He discusses how dietary changes have had an effect on one’s brain.
When children who suffer from epileptic seizures are put on fasts or caloric restrictions, they end up having far fewer of them. The reason for this is believed to be that fasting helps to kick-start certain protective measures.
These protective measures can help in counteracting the overexcited signals which are often exhibited by epileptic brains. Some epileptic children have also witnessed benefits from a low-carb, high-fat diet. When normal brains are overfed, it can lead to an impairment in their function.
This, and much more, was reported in the journal Nature Reviews Neuroscience in January by Mattson, together with another researcher.
The Proof is in The Studies
Indeed, when one looks at studies involving caloric restriction, many of them show not just higher chances of fighting and preventing chronic diseases, but also a prolonged lifespan. It also aids one’s brain, as evidenced by the many beneficial neurochemical changes.
It boasts one’s resistance to stress, improves cognitive function, reduces inflammation, increases neurotrophic factors, and more. You see, fasting represents a challenge to one’s brain, and it responds to this challenge through the adaptation of stress response pathways.
This helps your brain cope with not just stress, but any risk of disease as well. What’s worth noting is that the very same changes which occur in one’s brain during fasting also occur during regular exercise. Both of these help increase protein production in the brain.
This, in turn, encourages the growth of neurons, the connection between them, and the strength of synapses. As the video explains, whether it’s vigorous exercising or intermittent fasting, both of these represent cognitive challenges for your brain.
This means that during such a process, neuro-circuits become activated, and there is an increase in neurotrophic factor levels, which leads to the strengthening and formation of synapses as well as the growth of neurons.
Additionally, fasting can stimulate new nerve cell production from the hippocampus’s stem cells. Then there’s the fact that fasting can stimulate ketone production, which represents an energy source for neurons. It might also increase the number of mitochondria in one’s nerve cells.
The reason for this is that producing more mitochondria is the neurons’ way of adapting to stress from fasting. And, no surprise, if the number of mitochondria increases, so does the ability of the neurons to form (as well as maintain) the connections between one another.
This entire process results in the improvement of both one’s memory and learning ability. Another great thing about intermittent fasting is that it enhances the nerve cells’ ability to repair DNA!
This dates back to our ancestors and how they adapted to going long periods without food.
Fasting and Cancer
The University of Southern California’s researchers published a study in Cell Stem Cell’s June 5 issue. In it, they reported that prolonged fasting can not only protect against any damage done to our immune system but can also induce the regeneration of our immune system.
Their conclusion was that fasting could shift stem cells from a dormant state to one of self-renewal. This triggers regeneration based on stem cells concerning an organ or system. Human clinical trials that involved patients undergoing chemo attested to this.
In such clinical trials, those same patients didn’t eat for quite a while, which brought about a significant decrease in their white blood cell counts. It was as if someone had flipped a regenerative switch. This leads to a change in the hematopoietic stem cell signaling pathways.
These take responsibility for the generation of immune and blood systems. What this means is that fasting kills off damaged and old immune cells. And once our bodies rebound, it uses stem cells to make completely healthy, brand-new cells.
Scientists admit that they did not expect fasting to have such an incredible effect on promoting hematopoietic system regeneration based on stem cells. Look at it this way: when one is starving, their system automatically tries to save energy.
And one thing it can do in order to save that energy is to recycle a large number of unneeded immune cells, particularly those which may be damaged. As we mentioned, during the fasting period, one’s white blood cell count decreases. Then, as one starts eating again, those cells come back.
The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition published a scientific review of several studies back in 2007. A multitude of both animal and human studies was put under examination and concluded that fasting represents an effective way of reducing both the risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease.
What You Should Know
Before you start fasting (assuming you decide to take this step), make sure you do your homework. Fasting is like second nature for some individuals, while it may seem harder for others. If you want to try it for yourself, there are certain ways to go about it.
For instance, there is a way that was tested by BBC’s Michael Mosley and is called the ‘5:2 Diet’. It has been reported to help greatly with high cholesterol, diabetes, and any other problems which are usually related to obesity.
Basically, the 5:2 diet means cutting down on your food intake by ¼ of your usual daily calories, during the days when you are fasting. This should be about 500 for women and 600 for men.
Just make sure to consume plenty of tea and water. You can eat normally on the remaining five days of the week.
There is also another way to go about it: restrict your intake of food between 11 AM and 7 PM each day. Meaning, you shouldn’t eat anything during the hours outside of this period. And remember, a proper, nutritious, well-balanced diet remains the key to achieving optimal health.
You should always be aware of the things you put in your body. The old philosophy of ‘treating one’s body as a temple is not wrong. It all comes down to creating healthy habits. For even more information on this amazing subject, you can watch a video from Dr. Mercola below.